Urban Mindfulness

I’m a Londoner, born and raised. I love city life, not yet tired of it. Having lived in Cyprus for ten years I know the difference between living in a busy city like London and a quiet, slow-paced place like Cyprus. I know how stressful life can be in London, just a simple train journey into central London is enough to break any sense of tranquillity.

So how do we stay mentally healthy whilst living our daily lives here in London (and of course other cities across the world)?

THE ORIGINS OF MINDFULNESS

Mindfulness can greatly enhance how we experience life, even in the city or perhaps especially in the city. To understand how mindfulness can be incorporated into our busy lives, we first need to understand what mindfulness truly is.

And to do that we need to look at its origins, Buddhism. I want to bring attention particularly to the Zen master Thich Nhat Han who is often referred to the master of mindfulness. Many of us who study Buddhism can get caught up in the intellectualization of the teachings, studying, reading, trying to understand. However, Zen Buddhism reminds us that there is no need to study, to understand even, because all we need to do is practice.

This short anecdotal conversation between the Buddha and a philosopher may help to clarify what mindfulness is:

 “I have heard that Buddhism is a doctrine of enlightenment, What is your method? What do you practice everyday?” – philosopher

“We walk, we eat, we wash ourselves, we sit down….” Buddha

“What is so special about that, everyone walks, eats, washes and sits down” – philosopher

“Sir, when we walk, we are aware that we are walking, when we eat, we are aware that we are eating………When others walk, eat, wash or sit down, they are generally not aware of what they are doing” – Buddha

So we can see from this simple conversation that mindfulness is not an intellectual method, one that needs a deep study. It requires practice: every day, focused, committed practice. Working on the small things, becoming aware of what we are doing at any given moment and remembering to be kind when things don’t go as we had wished.

Mindfulness is being rather than doing.

MINDFULNESS AND MEDITATION

Meditation is what we call the “formal” practice of mindfulness, an essential part of the practice. However, it is a common misconception in the West that meditation is all we need to do to be a mindfulness practitioner. There is little point in sitting on a cushion for an hour and then making no effort to be mindful in our day to day life.

I find that people are often discouraged from mindfulness because they feel that they don’t have time to meditate. Of course, we all have time to sit quietly for 10 minutes a day, it’s because we don’t know the benefits that we don’t make the time. So maybe we should start with daily activities and slowly build in our meditation?

MINDFULNESS IN THE CITY

Mindfulness in London Southbank

It is possible to live in a busy city and remain mindful, developing your awareness of what’s happening at any given moment and alleviating your stress levels.

How to practice Mindfulness in the City?

I know that we will never have enough time, that is the reality of city life. But we can bring mindfulness into our life:

Slowing it down in the City:

Start your day with intention to be mindful, work at this everyday, bit by bit with a non judgmental attitude. One day you will be focused, the next maybe not. But over time, it will become less of an effort and more natural.

When you wake up in the morning, start with a quiet routine. Less of rush, brush your teeth, make that tea and have that shower. As Thich Nhat Han says “when I am drinking my tea, I know I am drinking my tea”.

Silence in the City:

Our city life is often noisy and busy and we don’t always have a choice about that. But there are times that we can switch off the TV, we can put down that mobile phone. We can even refrain from those conversations that just add to your negative experience.

Time to Stop:

Is it really true that we don’t have even 5 or 10 minutes during the day to stop? Can we take our lunch to the park outside the office? Can we just have our coffee break and do nothing else? How about on the weekend, can we do a little less? If we reduced the time we spend watching TV could we do something more useful to our wellbeing?

Attitude:

I think this is what has the biggest impact on how we experience life in the city. Our attitude. We really can choose to see things as bad or good, it’s up to us how much we take on as being our reality or just what we perceive as our reality. I practice this on the underground, my favourite place to stay mindful (and it’s a challenge, I know!).

Often I’ll just pull back and watch people instead of join in the rush, the push and shove. I take a breather, let others pass by and as Pema Chodren says, “ Don’t bite the hook”, don’t allow yourself to be pulled into this everyday madness.

Smile at others, give them the space, don’t let other peoples’ actions take over your mind space. And ask yourself, how important is it to have that seat? Or more importantly, why do I rush to my work everyday, surely I know how long it takes to get to work and so I should have got the timing right by now? So why do I need to rush?

You might like to use these tips in your life and see how being mindful can change your life, even in the city:

  • Reduce noise in your life
  • Switching off distraction, turn the TV, radio and technology off for a while
  • Establish a routine that sets you up for the day
  • Do one thing at a time and focus on that one thing only
  • Remember to breath before reacting
  • Develop self kindness and become aware of your harsh self talk

If you are a mindfulness practitioner in the city and would like to further this discussion, make sure to log on to our membership site, where I have created a forum for all of us to share ideas and resources.

Not a member? No problem, find out how to join here.

-Anna Zannides

Anna Zannides is both a Practitioner and Teacher Member of the Mindfulness Association. She practices and teaches mindfulness in London, specializing in mindfulness and cancer.

Find and book a Level 1: Being Present course near you. Our Level 1: Being Present course is the starting point of our teacher training pathway.

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